When Mr. Stafford and I head out for a warm weather vacation, the one thing that always comes with us is a few good books. We’re old school in that we don’t like to read our books on a device. We prefer a tangible hardcover book where you can see how many pages you have devoured in just a few hours. Also, it just feels better to hold a real book, sorry Kindle.
When we’re on vacation its one of the few times where we can sit and get lost in a good book. I find it hard to read at times when we’re home. There is always some kind of interruption. If I try to do some reading before going to bed I’ll read two pages and then I’m asleep!
So each year I’ll do the research and try to pick at least five books that my husband and I can pass back and forth with each other. Luckily, we have the same taste in reading. In past years we’ve read some incredible books on vacation, such as “Boys In The Boat”, “Big Little Lies”, and "All The Light We Cannot See” to name a few. We will even include some books that we have already read just because we love to read them over and over again. For me that book would be “Wuthering Heights” and for Vince, he loves reading “The Right Stuff”.
So for this year’s choices, I thought we would do a review of the books we have just recently read. This is the first time I’ve ever written a book review. So bear with me on this, it’s definitely my opinion. Vince and I really do have such similar taste that we even agreed on ranking them! So here we go!
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
One of my most favorite feelings is when I start a new book and I'm immediately hooked on the first page. Oh my God, I love that feeling!! That’s how it was with when I started reading “An American Marriage”. First, it is so beautifully written, Vince and I, both found it really hard to put down.
The book is told from the perspective of the three main characters, the wife, Celestial, the husband, Roy, and their friend, Andre. Celestial and Roy are a newly married African American couple living the American Dream in Atlanta. He is an upwardly mobile executive and she is an artist right at the beginning of what looks to be an amazing career. Their perfect life is suddenly destroyed by circumstances beyond their control. While on a visit to Roy’s parents in Louisiana, he is wrongly accused of a crime and sentenced to 12 years in jail. This is not a story about prison specifically. It is more a story of how they as a couple, deal with this devastating situation. While Roy is in prison we see their relationship only through the letters they send to each other, and how those letters change over the years.
The characters in this story are real. So real that they are all the things that make someone human. No one is perfect in this story. At different points, I found myself so angry at each character and then just in tears for them at other times.
I must say the parents of Roy and Celestial were probably my favorite characters. What they brought to the story was the love parents have for their children and the sacrifices they were more than willing to make to ensure a better life for them. At one point I had to put the book down and grab a box of tissues and pull myself together. So did Vince. Don’t tell him I told you.
The book is an honest look at race and class in America, but also at the heart of it a book about love, marriage, and family. Vince and I both agree this is one of our favorite books of all time.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
To start off I just saw that this book is being made into a limited series on Hulu starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I’m deceased!!! You know if Reese is involved then it's going to be good!
The book takes place in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, where everything is planned out perfectly. The colors of the homes, the charming roads, and the successful, all-American families. Think of Stepford, the fictional town in the book "The Stepford Wives" (the 1970’s version). The major difference here is that women are not weak, pretty robots!
By far the leader of this community is Elena Richardson, perfect mother, and wife of four children and a successful lawyer husband. She is also a journalist for the local paper. She lives by the rules, and you better believe, she wants everyone else to do the same.
Then Mia Warren enters into this community, who is a bohemian artist with a teenage daughter Pearl. The Richardson’s have a rental property and Mia and Pearl become their tenants.
The Richardson’s have four children, as I've said which includes, 2 boys, and 2 girls. The girls are completely different from each other, the oldest, a senior in high school is smart, popular, beautiful and excels at whatever she does. Her sister Izzy is the exact opposite. Combat boots and flannel shirts are her go to and she constantly is at odds with her Mother and any authority figure at school. Izzy was definitely my favorite, a real hoot but also the soul of this book.
The younger son meets Pearl and is crazy about her. He finally brings her to his home where she meets his siblings (she kind of goes crazy for the older brother, who of course is the jock in the family) and Elena, his mother.
When she sees their home and how beautiful and warm it is, she begins to resent her own mother (Mia) and their lifestyle. Since she was little they only stayed in an area for a short period of time until they left everything behind, took off in the VW Bug and started all over again somewhere else. She sees Elena as the type of mother that she wishes she had. Dinner on the table every night, constant attention to the kids and that feeling of home that she never has had.
The Richardson children begin to wish that Mia was their mother when she comes to work as a housekeeper and cook a few days each week. She is not held down by rules, is more forgiving and not judgemental. She is a free spirit who is open and more than willing to help Izzy fight back against the status quo at school. She is also there to give comfort and understanding to Izzy’s older sister, Lexi when she knows that her own mother would not be there for her.
When friends of the Richardson’s adopt a Chinese baby that was left abandoned by the mother, a custody battle occurs that pits Elena and Mia on opposite sides. This leads to the heart of the story and how both of these women will fight for what they believe in and try to keep secrets that they’ve been holding on to for a very long time.
We both loved this book, the characters being so thoughtfully written. Just when you think you have them all figured out they change, they are multi-dimensional and that’s what makes this a compelling read.
The Woman In The Window, by A. J. Finn
OK, let me just get this off my mind and then I can go on and tell you how much we enjoyed this book. Here’s the deal, why does every thriller with some twists and turns have to be compared with "Gone Girl". Honestly, I loved that book, but please can they stop comparing every thriller to "Gone Girl"! Thanks, I’m done now.
To start, let me just say that if you enjoy a good Alfred Hitchcock film you’ll love this book. The central character is Anna Fox, a child psychologist who lives alone and is severely afflicted with Agoraphobia. She is a recluse in her home who cannot venture outside because of her fear of open spaces. She no longer lives with her husband and daughter but talks with them daily.
Her days are made up of drinking too much red wine, always mixed with her medications, and dreaming about happier times. She watches old black and white movies, the Hitchcock flicks being her favorites. Caring for her constant companion, her cat Punch. She plays chess online and also gives counseling advice to an online community. She also loves spying on her neighbors.
When a new couple with a teenage son moves in across the way, she becomes fascinated with them. One evening while watching them with the zoom lens of her camera she sees something horrible take place. Or did she?
I’m not going to get into any fine details of the book. This would give too much away. But because of how she lives her life, drinking heavily and abusing her medications and the mental issues she deals with we are left to wonder if she is hallucinating or if the things she claims are real.
We both thought this book was a great read. We got caught up in the twists and turns that the book took you on and right up to the end still did not have anything figured out. It keeps you interested and dying to find out what made Anna the person she is. What happened in her life? It’s much more complex than an old B&W movie.
Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell
Disclaimer: I did not read this book but Vince did. I’ll tell you why when I get to our last book on the list. So let me tell you how Vince explained this to me.
First, he said it was a fast read and that it was good for something to pass the time. His major complaint was that it was incredibly predictable right from the beginning. There is no climax because everything was so obvious.
Once again it was compared to "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train" (help me!!!).
The fifteen-year-old daughter of the central character goes missing after she leaves their home for a quick trip to the library, just blocks away. The book then takes you forward in time to 10 years later. The story then focuses on the aftermath of this loss and how the mother is dealing with her daughter missing for so long, along with her marriage breaking up. This is where Vince said things got really predictable along with being farfetched.
So I’m going to leave it at that. I think it’s sometimes so hard to get into an average book when you just get done reading some incredible books that you become so invested in.
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
So let me start by saying that this book was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. I’m not going to lie, it was certainly one of the reasons I bought it, as well as the reviews that said it was insanely funny. All sounds great, right?
So to start off, Vince read this as his first book, while I was reading "An American Marriage". When I finished my book he was still working on this and was only about a quarter of the way through. He told me he just could not get into it. So he started reading the book I just finished and I started on "Less".
I had such high hopes. I was like, "bring on the laughs, let’s see what all the hype is about, this is going to be a great read!"
Three days later and I’m still on page 30, pushing myself to keep reading, it has to get better. Well, it didn’t. After a few more days I put it down and started on something else, determined to go back and finish before the end of our vacation.
So here’s the story. Arthur Less is a struggling (failed) novelist getting ready to turn fifty. His boyfriend of the past 9 years has left him and is engaged to someone else. To avoid the wedding he accepts a number of lesser-known literary events that he has been invited to around the world.
So what happens?!? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Less goes to NYC, nothing happens. Less goes to Paris, nothing happens. Less goes to Morocco, yeah you guessed it. Nothing. Happens. A writer travels the world and nothing happens.
The character of Arthur Less is so unappealing with really nothing interesting about him. He feels sorry for himself each and every page. He is constantly obsessed with turning fifty (like really? 50??) and just feeling bad for himself because of his poor love life. Which, by the way, he did nothing to make better.
It was very hard to feel anything for the main character. There was just nothing that pulled me in to want to root for him.
So after I finished my second book, I went back to Less. To give it another try. I had to. I mean I have to be wrong, it won the Pulitzer for God’s sake. But "Less" was still less than what I hoped for (pun intended). The book itself makes a really bad pun for its last sentence, like really Pulitzer committee??
So no, I never finished the book completely. It did stop me from being able to keep up with Vince and read the previous book. I did read ahead just to see what the heck happened to Less. I could not believe how predictable the ending was.
By the way, I never once laughed out loud like the reviews promised I would. I was so looking forward to that.
Well, here you go! My first book review! Let me know your thoughts in the comments! If you have any really good books that are a must read for this summer please let me know! I'm always looking for the next book to get caught up in. Hope you enjoy.